Net Insight delivers a seamlessly integrated IP solution which frees production teams from limitations of location to focus on the business of delivering outstanding content
Founded in 1989, Arena Television is a British outside broadcast production partner which holds contracts with the nation’s major broadcasters to provide coverage of events, music, large studio shows and sport. Arena led the way with the world’s first IP-based Ultra HD High Dynamic Range OB fleet and continuously pioneers by introducing new ideas and technology to ensure our clients remain at the forefront, with award winning broadcasts.
Arena continues to innovate with the introduction of CoreTX, a new decentralised and cloud-based production service based on the Net Insight Nimbra 600 media acceleration platform. CoreTX provides complex location-based broadcast solutions. The concept includes a new Production Centre based at Arena’s HQ in Redhill, Surrey and the ability to pop-up CoreTX galleries anywhere. In either case, the source media is held on site with feeds remote controlled from surface applications over Net Insight Nimbra without compromise in quality and with full benefits of cost, time and carbon savings.
Beginning of the journey
“Our journey to remote production began back in 2016 when we built and launched our first all-IP OB vehicle,” explains Peter Love, director of operations at Arena. “It opened up the potential for us to connect multiple IP-enabled cameras on location and remote the feeds over a Nimbra system to a central location with needing to ship the large amount of equipment you’d traditionally have on-site.”
Arena originally purchased a Nimbra system with a view to integrating it into de-rigs (flyaway) kits for a much more powerful and compact solution.
“Owning the Nimbra system has enabled us to let our imaginations run wild,” Love says. “We can design systems around it, we can test ideas in-house on different scales and we can come up with all sorts of solutions.”
With the seeds planted, Arena has tested, evaluated, developed and now launched a new solution called CoreTX that it believes will change the way sport is produced.
Arena’s remote production solution has evolved in concert with the BBC and in particular a contract with the broadcaster to produce the presentation for matches of the UK’s prestigious FA Cup soccer tournament. To meet the BBC’s drive to reduce the environmental cost of sending kit and crew to venues, Arena worked with studio facilities provider Dock10 to send remote presentation feeds and select ISOs via Nimbra from FA Cup stadia into a pre-existing fully routed and monitored MCR at MediaCityUK in Salford. Presentation was switched at Dock10 and transmitted from Dock10.
This remote gallery solution was first used during the fourth round of the FA Cup in February 2020 and subsequently for the 2020 FA Cup Final aired live on BBC One. This application had the added benefit of enabling BBC Sport’s production team to be based in a Covid-safe gallery at Dock10, while reducing the amount of crew and kit sent to Wembley Stadium.
“Essentially what we are able to do with Nimbra is to provide the production team with the same facilities they would have on site uncompromised by being accessed at a remote gallery,” explains Daf Rees, Arena’s Head of Special Projects. “We were able to do a live test a few days before we went on air on that first job in February 2020. Afterwards the director said – ‘Well that was just like being on the truck wasn’t it?’ We were all very happy with it and we’ve been refining and expanding the solution ever since.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a new urgency to this initiative, but Arena had a head start. “Before COVID, remote production has always been a swear word,” says Love. “Production teams and directors wanted to go to site. Outside broadcast was what they were used to so it was an uphill struggle to push the idea of remote forward. The pandemic has accelerated these workflows right across the broadcast industry.”
CoreTX on the road
The next phase was to build a gallery as a Flyback for clients to put wherever they want, rather than having to use an already kitted facility. All feeds are remote surfaced into the CoreTX mobile gallery, meaning that the presentation team able to control all the hardware including CCUs which remain on site. The presentation team has the same full-size sound desk and full size vision mixer plus all the talkback panels and replay controls they are familiar with and they have access to every single source that the OB truck has on site.
“There is no compromise,” says Love. “Our goal with CoreTX is to provide the same resources and same experience as a client would normally have on-site but with all advantages of an ultra-low latency remote workflow.”
It enables the production of Tier 1 events like an FA Cup Final with reduced crew on site and safe working during this global crisis. It saves time and money on accommodation and travel while reducing the carbon impact of production.
“It is a very powerful solution. Instead of sending a separate presentation truck we are able to send just one while using the sound and vision cores much more efficiently.”
He continues, “The crew have got more space, the overall environment is more comfortable, you’re not limited to the OB compound in bad weather. The gallery can be installed quickly, fired up on demand and switched off after the event saving on power and energy. There’s no need for permanent equipment and no need to keep the machines running 24/7.
“While the Nimbra does an extremely complicated job, the beauty of its design is that we can configure the unit and just hand it over to the client’s engineers. They don’t have to do anything to it other than connecting it up at their end. It just works. If there are any issues, we can remote it into Arena and troubleshoot.”
Whichever workflow is used, fewer people need to travel to an event.
CoreTX Production Centre
Simultaneously, Arena was building out the heart of CoreTX. This is a centralized production hub based at its Redhill, UK headquarters to handle live productions. The aim is to maximize resources by allowing production teams to support multiple events in a day.
The purpose built CoreTX gallery at Arena is a flexible space housing large galleries, scalable graphics and VT replay facilities, presentation studios and edit suites all connected by two geographically diverse 40 Gbps diverse fibre to BT Tower and Telehouse North.
CoreTX requires only the camera heads to be deployed at the remote location reducing the bandwidth by 90 percent. Using this workflow, the production team can manage everything from camera matching, colouring and shading through to editing and graphics from a home base and establish a true decentralised production.
All of this is underpinned by Net Insight Nimbra 600. “Nimbra is a very robust piece of equipment that enables us to send diverse feeds with confidence,” says Rees. “It is invaluable for testing purposes too. We can simulate any distance within the kit without actually running signals down lengths of cable. We can verify whether signals handshake or not. Does a sound desk surface or vision mixer or KVM work over tens or hundreds of kilometres away Nimbra enables us to rigorously test this ahead of time.”
The proof of concept enabled by Nimbra proved important for a client to greenlight production of a recent Tier 1 live soccer event in which all feeds surfaced controlled from site at Arena’s Production Centre.
“Telling a client that you’re using the Nimbra to remote their production is one thing, showing them its performance is another,” says Love. “We simulated the distance between Redhill and the stadium using the Nimbra so we were thoroughly confident it would run the real distance.
“Not only that, but we proved its ability to seamlessly switch to the redundant link in case of any fault at any point between stadium and gallery. When you’re in a gallery and looking at everything from the stadium – the EVS and talkback, all the camera feeds and multiviewers – you imagine you’re going to see something or hear a click on the audio. But with Nimbra, this was not the case. We literally pulled a fibre out in front of the client and it was seamless. I couldn’t believe it. More importantly, the client described it as ‘bombproof’ in terms of how resources and redundancy are built into the unit.”
While Arena use J2K as standard from the box for its clients, Nimbra will enable a multitude of other workflow solutions over more limited bandwidths simply by plugging in different compression technologies.
“You can plug a third-party compression device straight into the Nimbra pipe and be assured that its sits securely on the Nimbra network,” Rees says. “It’s all about flexibility.
He continues, “Another advantage of the Nimbra is for venues that don’t necessarily have point to point connectivity. You could, for example, send a second link over the public internet. It’s not something a client necessarily wants to do yet because they are used to having dedicated connections, but we are bringing the option online because we believe this dramatically opens up opportunities for live production. Ultimately, we want to be able to use a low bandwidth pipe with backup over 5G. Nimbra can take us down that journey.
CoreTX and the future of live event production
The CoreTX technology is set up to handle everything from small 6 camera OB vans up to 60 camera full-scale OB operations. It’s also capable of supporting decentralised production worldwide.
“CoreTX is highly scalable both as a production centre and with location-based elements,” explains Love. “Whether that is augmenting client facilities through the addition of our cloud services, or by working with fellow independent studios looking to enhance their capability for a particular project. With CoreTX we can use any resource in the cloud or in trucks on the road and studios located anywhere and draw it all together. With CoreTX, there’s no reason someone can’t fire up a studio in Australia and have a production team in London.”
CoreTX is perfect for broadcasters and production companies serious about attaining sustainability goals. “There’s now a real push to make sure everyone within the supply chain is focussed on meeting sustainability targets,” says Rees. “This agenda is causing everybody to look at how you achieve sustainable production. CoreTX is our solution for this and for people too since production workflows can now revolve around a far better work/life balance.
“Technology like Nimbra enables the way in which information is processed on-site, off-site or between sites is to fundamentally change. The key with CoreTX is that any part or all of the OB truck can be remote if you want it to. There is so much you can do.”